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Typically, we think of fetishes as people getting aroused by specific body parts or inanimate objects — feet, noses, leather, silk, etc.
But what happens when the fixation is laser-focused on the idea of who someone is? A real human being, on the other end of the screen?
Eight women shared their online dating stories of being objectified with us. The inappropriate — and vulgar — messages they’ve received show the worst side of dating apps. From race to age to being a twin — these women, like so many others, have endured the troubling yet ubiquitous experience of being fetishized.
“Being fetishized as a twin isn’t confined to dating apps. It’s something I’ve always dealt with, but once you get on a dating app the creep factor skyrockets … I was making plans to meet up with a guy I’d briefly chatted with and he finalized our plans with ‘and make sure you bring your sister.’ Ever the optimist, I asked why. Maybe he had a friend he wanted to bring. Maybe I’d misunderstood and this was actually a casual group get-together. Nope. He responded with a graphic description of what he hoped to accomplish with us.”
— Kelly Church
“I am a proud Sri Lankan woman — though I grew up mostly in Canada and the U.S. — and that information is available on my OkCupid profile. I’ve received a few bizarre intros. For example: ‘I’ve heard Sri Lankans are lascivious, are you?’ Then, when I explained the definition of the word and why that’s offensive, he told me it must just be a cultural difference.”
— Lavina Ranjan
“Before I was married, I was subscribed to a few dating sites and I always got the chubby chasers … It wasn’t until they would start to tell me how much they loved ‘thick’ girls or ‘BBWs’ (big beautiful women) that I would become immediately disappointed. I had spent my whole life trying to shift people’s focus away from my weight by working hard and involving myself in leisure activities … anything to make me more interesting than my outer shell. Then I’d get these fools in my personal message box.”
— Yesenia Gorham
“I’ve heard it all: From guys in bars who approach me to tell me I look ‘exotic’ to coworkers who ask what my nationality or ethnicity is. People always act surprised when I say that I’m Pakistani, and then say I don’t look Middle Eastern. (Right. Because I’m not.) A lot of people don’t understand what’s ‘so bad’ about asking where you’re from … but they don’t understand how othering it can feel.”
— Farah Sheikh
“For the past month, I have been on a dating app, Coffee Meets Bagel. This is my first time on a dating app and I decided to try it based on a friend’s suggestion. I’m about to turn 49 and there was a 31-year-old man … I realized almost immediately that he wanted sex rather than a relationship. I think he was looking for an older woman, possibly to play out a fetish fantasy.”
— Sarah S.
“In online dating, I’ve gotten unsolicited comments about my size, my eyes, and comments in both Japanese and Chinese from white men attempting to show their ‘expertise’ on ‘my culture.’ [They also] spurned and insulted me when I’ve bothered to correct them. Another layer of complexity is that I spent my teen years in Shanghai, so a lot of folks inaccurately assume that I’m an ‘authentic’ Chinese girl. I’m not even sure what that means. They seem almost disappointed that I speak English with native fluency … It’s hard to not wonder and question whether you’re being dated for who you are vs. what type of ideal you may fulfill and represent for someone with an Asian fetish.”
— Brenda Lee
“Dating apps sometimes made me feel like I must be an anomaly, as a bisexual person looking for a simple committed relationship with another individual. Basically the majority of people who reached out to me were couples interested in having a ‘third.’ And while I am not opposed to threesomes or polyamory, it seemed that the majority of people assumed — just because I chose to identify myself as bisexual — that I must be interested in three-way or ‘kinky’ sex. What’s more is that I found this to be true not just on hetero apps, but also girls-only apps like Fem and Her.”
— Laura Davis
“After the election, things got extra weird online. I’m often fetishized for being Latina and a big woman.”
— Natalie Lima
Illustrations by Eileen Tjan for The Lily• Art direction by Amy Cavenaile